Australian and international farm policy news

US Congress debates farm data ownership

On 13 July, the US House of Representatives Agriculture Committee held a hearing on agriculture technology and data utilisation in preparation for the next US Farm Bill which will be drafted early next year. Arkansas Congressman Rick Crawford said: ‘Farmers have a deep sense of mistrust where data is concerned around the idea of uploading their data into the cloud because there are no laws explicitly protecting that data.’

Witness Todd Janzen laid out three pain points for the growth of big data in farming: a lack of trust of agtech companies on the part of the farmer; the possibility of losing control of their own data when uploading to cloud-based storage; and a frustration with the complexity of the legal agreements they have to sign.

In November 2014, the American Farm Bureau Federation working with commodity groups, farm organisations, and agriculture technology providers, established the Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data. The 13 principles cover: education; ownership; collection, access and control; notice; transparency and consistency; choice; portability; terms and definitions; disclosure, use, and sale limitation; data retention and availability; contract termination; unlawful or anti-competitive activities; and liability and security safeguards.

Witness Billy Tiller from the Grower Information Services Cooperative (GiSC), a farmer-owned cooperative storage system for data with 1400 members in 41 states, said:

Unlike the data captured and communicated on typical technology and information platforms for consumers, such as social media platforms, farm operation data is, in essence, intellectual property – the farmer’s trade secrets and ‘know-how.’ Farmers are hesitant (and rightfully so) to entrust that data with third parties in which those farmers have no vested interest.

Cattle farmers sue government for $600 million

A group of cattle farmers, led by the Northern Territory’s Brett Cattle Company, are suing the Federal Government for $600 million in compensation after live exports to Indonesia were banned by the Gillard administration in June 2011. The farmers allege the decision to suspend live cattle exports was ‘irrational, disproportionate and unjustified.’ The members of the class action include businesses that provided transport, mustering, feed and agistment services to cattle producers and exporters.

In his opening address to the Federal Court on 19 July, the farmers’ barrister Noel Hutley SC said the decision to suspend all live cattle exports to Indonesia was unjustified: ‘The process miscarried to the point of irrationality, disproportionality and unreasonableness... This was a complex issue that did not lend itself to simplistic solutions.’

Hamish Brett, whose family owns Waterloo Station in the Northern Territory, said he hoped the legal action would prevent similar decisions in the future. ‘You can’t ban something overnight with no industry say in it at all, which is what happened,’ he said. Mr Brett said his family’s financial losses ran ‘into the millions’ and he wanted Mr Ludwig held to account for his role in implementing the ban.

Drought devastates crops in South Europe

Drought in southern Europe threatens to reduce cereal production in Italy and parts of Spain to its lowest level in at least 20 years, and hit other regional crops including olives and almonds. Cereal crop losses are estimated at around 60–70% in Castile and Leon, the largest growing region in Spain.

In June, Italy’s national agricultural association said that soaring temperatures and lack of rainfall had already cost farmers $1.12 billion euros.

Spain and Italy are also among the world’s top producers of olive oil, with production in both countries expected to fall. The decline is likely to be particularly steep in Italy, where drought follows insect plagues and a bacterial disease in recent years. The International Olive Council forecasts a 60% drop in Italian output.

Some see rising temperatures as a long-term trend, which threatens the viability of farming in the region, with scientists linking more frequent heat waves to man-made climate change.

10-year OECD and FAO agricultural outlook predicts low food commodity prices

The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2017–2026 projects that global food commodity prices will remain low over the next decade, compared to previous peaks. Demand growth in a number of emerging economies is expected to slow down and biofuel policies will have a diminished impact on markets.

Cereal stocks have been replenished by 230 million metric tonnes over the past decade which should help limit growth in world prices, which are now almost back to their levels before the 2007–08 food price crisis.

The report foresees demand for food staples remaining flat, except in the least developed countries. Growth in demand for meat is projected to slow, with no new sources of demand projected to maintain the momentum previously generated by China. Additional calorie and protein consumption, over the period, is expected to come mainly from vegetable oil, sugar and dairy products.

Image:  CSIRO